Cellulitis is an infection of the skin and tissue just below the skin. The infection may occur anywhere on the body. It is most common on the lower legs.
Cellulitis is caused by a bacterial infection. It may come from bacteria that normally lives on the skin or bacteria from other sources. The bacteria enter the skin through a cut or injury. The infection spreads into the surrounding skin.
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Factors that may increase the risk of cellulitis include:
- A minor injury to the skin such as, a cut, scratch, blister , burn , puncture, or bite
- Injuries that occur in natural bodies of water
- A cut or abrasion
- Bacteria that enter the body through surgical wounds or a catheter in a vein
- Having certain conditions such as diabetes, HIV , kidney or liver disease, or poor circulation
- Abusing alcohol or drugs
- Taking steroids on a regular basis
- Undergoing surgery
- Retaining fluids
- A fungal infection of the foot
- Handling certain foods, like raw fish, meat, shellfish, poultry, and eggs
Symptoms may begin within hours or days and can include:
Skin inflammation that begins in a small area and spreads with:
- Pain or tenderness
- A red streak
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Fever or chills
Cellulitis near the eyes may cause pain with eye movements and should be treated right away.
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Your doctor will also ask about exposure to natural bodies of water or animals. Your skin will be closely examined. The border of the cellulitis on your skin may be marked. This will help to monitor its progress
Tests may include:
- Wound culture to test for the bacteria causing the infection
- Blood tests to see if the infection has spread to the bloodstream
In severe cases, the infection can lead to tissue death known as gangrene . It can also spread to the bone.
Images may be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with:
The goal is to eliminate the infection and reduce discomfort. Most cases resolve after a week or two of treatment.
Hospital care may be needed if you have:
- Severe cellulitis
- Diabetes or a weakened immune system
- An infection on your face
Antibiotics may be taken by mouth or injected into a muscle or vein. The method will depend on the severity of the infection. The antibiotic chosen will depend on the bacteria causing the infection. Pain medication may also be prescribed.
This may include:
- Elevating the infected area higher than your heart
- Changing the dressings as directed by your doctor
- Applying warm compresses
- Protecting your skin from additional injury